Review Summary: Indeterminate form.
I don’t want to belabor a point repeated ad nauseum
in this space and other publications about the new Death From Above 1979 record, so if you’d like a succinct, accurate reflection of The Physical World
, here it is: it sounds like a DFA1979 record. If you liked You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine
, you will like this as well. More impressive than Sebastien Grainger and Jesse Keeler repairing a seemingly shattered relationship and successfully producing a follow-up to one of the last decade’s most indelible albums is just how out of time and place The Physical World
sounds; it's as if the two never stopped making music together. The fact that The Physical World
comes off like it could just as easily arrived in 2006 as it does in 2014 is a testament to its creators’ uniquely focused vision and arguably an indictment of the limits of the duo’s sound.
That’s not to say The Physical World
is a carbon copy of its predecessor; there are enough twists of sound and minor stylistic shading to clearly delineate The Physical World
as its own beast. Whether you prefer this new record to the same degree as the debut likely has little to do with how you feel about these minor changes, although they provide The Physical World
with some of its finest moments. Grainger’s more confident in his voice, allowing him to indulge in a bit of melodic power pop on “White Is Red” and appear totally in control of sleeker, slinkier songs like “Cheap Talk.” The riffs are still there, loud and chunky, making it a pleasant surprise when the bass drops off into those “oh-woo-ooh-oohs” on “Trainwreck 1979” or the pair degenerate into full on noise rock on the outro to the title track. It’s nice, but the focus remains on the heart of Death From Above’s sound – the rapid fire bass propelling “Always On” among Grainger’s shuffling drums, the breathless chorus of “Right On, Frankenstein!,” the messy grime and venomous lyrics on “Government Trash.” This is what’s going to ignite the old pleasure centers, what will get the pit at the show really going. It’s more of the same, and in the case of the timeless, whirling, pogo-ing rage of You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine
, it was/is hard not to want to listen over and over again.
Yet for all its similarities to the classic Death From Above sound, The Physical World
leaves me feeling empty, more often than not. It’s unrealistic to want a band to deliver the same goods they previously proffered a decade ago, yet Grainger and Keeler seem more than up to the task, eager, even, to please old fans. With the exception of a few cuts, however – “Always On,” the fire-alarm riff centering “Gemini,” the relentless push and pull of “The Physical World,” a couple more – these songs largely fail to click. I miss the lingering bitterness of the group in their ‘20s, the palpable wrath and bubbling temper simmering all along You’re A Woman
, expelling itself in tightly coiled bursts that forced you to dance, or jump, or move
, whether you wanted to or not. I don’t know if The Physical World
is lacking that fire or if I’m actually the blind one. The burden of ten years of expectations makes it inevitable that not everyone will be fully satisfied; is it them, or me? Certain records follow a band for an eternity – ask Interpol about that one – and the interminable hiatus between records only added to the group’s mythic mid-00s performances. So when I listen to The Physical World
, I don’t know what I want. Would I prefer DFA to expand their sound, to take the road lightly marked out by “White Is Red?” Do I want them to cut the crap and just get back to making a song as gnarly as “Romantic Rights?” Do I just want to go back in time and recreate a feeling that won’t ever exist again except in greying shades of nostalgia? At times The Physical World
feels like the real deal, at others a pale imitation of a too-distinct aesthetic. Am I giving Death From Above a fair shake, or knocking them points for not living up to past glories? To be honest, my experience ten years ago makes it nearly impossible to judge my experience today. Whether that makes The Physical World
a success or a failure is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to figure out.